Verizon Flunks Privacy Test

obama, verizon, privacy, security
As we reported today, several Verizon employees have been using their employee access privileges to look at an old mobile phone account of President-elect Barack Obama's. Here's the statement from Verizon:

BASKING RIDGE, N.J. - Verizon Wireless President and CEO Lowell McAdam made the following statement today:

"This week we learned that a number of Verizon Wireless employees have, without authorization, accessed and viewed President-Elect Barack Obama's personal cell phone account. The account has been inactive for several months. The device on the account was a simple voice flip-phone, not a BlackBerry or other smartphone designed for e-mail or other data services.

"All employees who have accessed the account - whether authorized or not - have been put on immediate leave, with pay. As the circumstances of each individual employee's access to the account are determined, the company will take appropriate actions. Employees with legitimate business needs for access will be returned to their positions, while employees who have accessed the account improperly and without legitimate business justification will face appropriate disciplinary action.

"We apologize to President-Elect Obama and will work to keep the trust our customers place in us every day."

Keeping digital information secure has always been a top priority for individuals and, perhaps more recently, for companies. Sure, credit cards and banking websites have always worked hard to keep their customer information secure (and it hasn't always worked). But now everyone from Google to Facebook to Apple is concerned about personal information. Granted, some are a little more cavalier with security than others, but it is still a huge issue at the forefront of public discussion.

This presidential election has highlighted these concerns even more. In March 2008, it was discovered that State Department contractors had accessed the passport files of the three leading presidential contenders at the time -- Sentators Clinton, McCain and Obama -- as well as other public figures without authorization.

Then we heard that hackers suspected to be of Chinese origin had infiltrated the Websites for the McCain and Obama campaigns as well as the White House network. Following that was news of Governor Palin's Yahoo account being hacked by a university student, and now there is a debate about whether the President-elect will be able to use his Blackberry securely after inauguration on January 20, 2009.

These are all serious security concerns, but it is deeply troubling to know that those who are entrusted with our personal information, both in the private and public sectors, have seemingly free access to the personal information of any individual. It just goes to show you no one is safe from this threat and that a corporate firewall may not be enough when you can't trust the people who are already behind that digital fortress.

Of course, to be fair, being overprotective and cautious can edge into the ridiculous. Just this week Macworld's Dan Moren reported a tale of personal data loss and how he discovered that Apple takes personal digital security and privacy so seriously they don't back up personal files stored on the company's iDisk service.

It just goes to show you that we haven't found a happy medium yet between overprotective paranoia and lax internal security.

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